Some people love working out at the gym or in a group fitness class — being surrounded by like-minded exercisers (and secretly competing against the person next to you in spin class) can be a great motivator.
But for others, just thinking about working out in a room full of people can be a huge deterrent. If you feel self-conscious about working out, and it’s keeping you from being as active as you’d like, try these expert tips to quiet the negative thoughts in your head — so you can crush your goals without worrying about what other people are thinking.
1. Bring a friend.
A workout buddy cannot only hold you accountable, but can also provide a friendly, comforting presence — and that can make your workout much less intimidating. “Humans truly are meant to be social creatures,” says personal trainer Lindsey Heiserman. “Experiencing fitness with friends or family will decrease your feelings of self-consciousness, raise your confidence, and increase your connectedness.”
Can’t find a workout buddy? You can still connect with people around you — say hello to the person working the front desk, introduce yourself to the instructor of a class, and smile at the person next to you. “The more you can get outside of your own head, the more comfortable you will feel,” Heiserman says. “I was intimidated when I first started going to classes, but then I realized that people were kind and nice, and that we were all working toward similar goals.”
2. Seek out fun classes.
If you find a workout you enjoy, you’ll be having too much fun to feel self-conscious. When you’re trying out a new class, arrive a few minutes early so you can introduce yourself to the instructor, who can help calm your nerves. “A good group fitness instructor will do their best to make you feel comfortable and ensure that you’re supported and have what you need to succeed in his or her class,” says ACE-certified personal trainer Makeba Edwards, the fitness program manager at EXOS.
3. Look the part.
Sure, you can get a great workout in ragged sweats and an old T-shirt, but investing in workout gear you love can give you the confidence boost you need to sweat without feeling self-conscious. “Find a look that works for you and rock it!” Edwards says. Just make sure the outfit you choose is comfortable, and isn’t so tight or so baggy it interferes with your workout.
4. Remember that everyone else is focused on themselves.
You may feel like everyone is watching and judging you, but most people are too busy worrying about how they look to worry about how you look. “When I first started going to yoga, I was paranoid that everyone would be looking at how bad I was,” Heiserman says. “I was so focused on me that I wasn’t paying attention to anyone else.” Then she realized everyone else was probably doing the same exact thing.
Her advice? Start chatting with others in your class and admit you’re feeling anxious. “Talk to people and say, ‘I’m nervous about looking funny when I do Zumba,'” Heiserman adds. “You’ll connect with others and find the confidence you need to keep coming back.”
5. Reflect on your “why.”
Think about why you decided to start your fitness journey, and then write it down and post it where you see it often; it can give you the nudge you need when you’re feeling self-conscious. “Connecting with your ‘why’ allows you to remain focused, passionate, and clear about your intentions,” Edwards says.
6. Try it at home.
If you still feel too self-conscious to try a new workout in a room full of strangers, consider streaming a similar workout at home. That’ll give you a chance to become familiar with it, helping you feel more comfortable doing it in a group setting later.
The most important thing is to not let your worries keep you from pursuing your fitness goals. Focus on getting through today’s workout, then tomorrow’s. Those actions will start to create momentum, Heiserman says: “Your confidence will grow, and you will build an incredible and healthy habit.”
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